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World

Despite ISIS Claim, Many In Iran Blame Saudi Arabia For Terrorist Attacks

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yesterday's attacks on two different sites in Iran killed at least 13 people and prompted various responses. Reporter Ali Noorani of the AFP news agency says many Iranians are united in sympathy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALI NOORANI: There were lots of messages for Tehran with imagery and symbols of Tehran. People started designing graphics on social media - pray for Tehran or we stand together - the kinds of messages that we have always seen throughout all these attacks in various cities.

INSKEEP: Noorani says Iranians also asked who might have targeted their Parliament building complex as well as an important shrine. A video released by the attackers shows them speaking Arabic, which brings to mind for some Iranians the country's Arabic-speaking minorities. A different reaction came from the White House which said, we grieve and pray for the innocent victims, but added states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.

Much to talk about here, and we've brought in Robin Wright of The New Yorker who's reported from Iran many times. Robin, welcome back to the program.

ROBIN WRIGHT: Great to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is there some truth to that White House response, edgy as it might have been, saying that Iran in effect fell victim to the same evil that it promotes?

WRIGHT: Well, Iran is on the top of the State Department's terrorism list and has been for many years. There's no question that the U.S. views Iran from that prism. At the same time, this also comes after two years of very intensive diplomacy between the U.S. secretary of state under the Obama administration and his Iranian counterpart that produced the historic nuclear deal.

And there were hopes that that would then generate a kind of raproshma (ph) gradual between the two countries that would help solve some of the regional conflicts, notably the war in Syria. But the response by the White House certainly does seem to undermine any diplomatic effort at the moment.

INSKEEP: And then there's the question of what effect there might be inside Iran, Robin Wright, because we do have this president, Hasan Rouhani, who just got re-elected who said, I want to encourage more freedom within the country.

But when you have an attack like this, it can also encourage your government to crackdown on dissent. What kind of effects might we see inside this country because of the attack?

WRIGHT: Well, the reaction in Tehran is going to be no different than it would be in London, Manchester, Paris, Berlin or elsewhere. There will be a sweeping look at who might be responsible, what cells have been operating under - off the radar. So no question that there will be a crackdown.

And, of course, Iran as a pervasive intelligence community and a core of volunteers who kind of spy on Iranians to find out what social or criminal activity they may be involved in that violates Islamic tenets. So they have a much greater apparatus.

And there is this moment in the revolution that there is particular tension between those like the re-elected president who want to open up society a little bit more, want to deal with the West and want to better the economy - the kind of reforms. But he faces very severe challenges from the deep state, the military, the intelligence community, some of the hard-liners who don't want to see the revolutionary tenets compromised in any way. So there's a lot at stake.

INSKEEP: And when we talk about - yeah, and when we talk the revolution, of course, we're talking about the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the government talks as though that's still ongoing. What does it mean, Robin, that ISIS would target Iran at this moment? What does that tell us about Iran and about the region?

WRIGHT: This is unprecedented. And the interesting thing about it is that these two - the Islamic State and the Islamic Republic offer two very different visions of the ideal Islamic government. Iran is a modern republic with a constitution based on French-Belgian law that has Islamic tenants added onto it in parallel institutions where it wants to be part of the 21st century in its own cultural way, whereas the Islamic State wants to take society back to the 7th century.

But what's - in terms of security, this is a first. The Islamic State has not put Iran in its crosshairs. Iran is the predominant Shiite country. The Islamic State is Sunni. And so this is sectarian in nature as well as two rivals. And this ups the ante at a time that the Islamic State is losing territory, and it's clearly trying to say it's still around. It's still a force to be reckoned with.

INSKEEP: Robin, always a pleasure talking with you. Thanks very much.

WRIGHT: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Robin Wright is, among other things, a contributing writer for The New Yorker and has been for many years a frequent visitor to Iran. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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